Toronto Councillor Doug Ford says there is no way the mayor will bring back the hated vehicle registration tax to pay for subways, but discussions are under way about creating a lottery or casino in his own Etobicoke ward that would pump millions into transit expansion.
With a deciding vote on the future of Toronto transit less than a month way, Councillor Ford challenged his fellow politicians to start thinking “outside the box,” about ways to finance the proposed $4-billion Sheppard subway expansion.
With news Thursday that the critical council meeting on transit for Sheppard Ave East has been delayed to March 21 from March 15, Mayor Rob Ford and his allies will have a few more days to pull together funding ideas for their subway option. The special council meeting also will hear from an expert panel on the option of light rail or subways.
In the meantime, Councillor Ford said he is gathering ideas from “a tremendous amount of people.”
“How about a lottery?” Councillor Ford asked reporters Thursday. “Let’s have a transit lottery. What’s wrong with that?”
As for a casino, he said his constituents would take it with “no argument,” noting that there already are slot machines at the Woodbine racetrack. “Throw tables in there. Take $200-million a year and put it towards transit,” he said.
Asked if the city has approached the Ontario Lottery Corp. about these options, he said, “We are in the middle of talking to them.”
However, OLG chief executive officer Rod Phillips said it is premature to have discussions with the city about a casino until the lottery corporation completes a strategic review of its gambling operations for the provincial government.
“We’re focused on finalizing the report,” Mr. Phillips told The Globe. “We’re not having any specific discussions.”
Ontario’s lottery corporation is pushing for a casino in Toronto, with Ontario Place pegged by many as an ideal location for what would be the country’s most lucrative gaming licence. It will ultimately be the province’s call, but the Ford administration has made it clear they are open to the idea of building a casino in Toronto provided the public is onside and profits went to financing transit expansion.
Still the idea is a controversial one, with city centre politicians looking for ways to block future developments and even some of the mayor’s supporters voicing concerns.
On Thursday, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong repeated his opposition to gambling and added that he feels the same way about lotteries.
While the mayor has included reviving the car tax in his discussions with councillors on financing options for transit, his brother said the mayor will be “pushing up tulips” before that happens.
Tolls for existing roads also are out of the question, Councillor Ford said, but adding new toll lanes to the Don Valley, Gardiner Expressway or 427 – all city highways – could be an option.
He dismissed the idea floated by one ally of the mayor for a Toronto sales tax.
“We are against all taxes,” he said. “All taxes are evil as far as I am concerned.”
Still he said the administration is willing to consider some sort of parking levy, depending on how it worked.
Councillor Ford said he is frustrated with the naysayers on council who keep repeating why a Sheppard extension can’t be built. “I want to find a way that we can,” he said.
He wants to see the line built in stages, with the first leg going to Victoria Park. That plan, floated earlier this year by TTC Chair Karen Stintz, was rejected by the mayor.
With a report from Karen Howlett